Thursday, December 10, 2009

Game: Erase The Face (AKA 'Hangman')

All Ages
10-20 minutes
Best for individual students or small groups.

Hangman has been a go-to activity in any class I've led. I used it with middle schoolers and middle-aged housewives in Japan, it was invaluable in my one-on-one tutoring sessions with struggling sixth graders, and my current groups of seven and eight year olds can't get enough of it.

Come to think of it, I don't know anyone who isn't at least a little fond of Hangman. Heck, the US's longest-running game show is basically Hangman with a wheel.

I only have one problem: I think there might be something slightly wrong about drawing an execution scene step-by-step in front of groups of children. Read this guide to setting up the game from Wikipedia and tell me it doesn't creep you out a bit:

The exact nature of the diagram differs; some players draw the gallows before play and draw parts of the man's body (traditionally the head, then the torso, then the left arm, then the right arm, then the left leg, then the right leg). Some players begin with no diagram at all, and drawing the individual elements of the gallows as part of the game, effectively giving the guessing players more chances. The amount of detail on the man can also vary, affecting the number of chances. Many players include a face on the head, either all at once or one feature at a time.
In my classroom, I've replaced the body and gallows with an obnoxious smiley face. My kids literally beg me to play this game. I can put it on the agenda every and guarantee myself at least twenty minutes, of
happy, focused students. Here's how we play. (January '10 Update: Click Here for Erase the Face CrossWord Edition)

All you need is a writing utensil and surface. Since I'm working with small groups of students, I use my whiteboard. This could easily be done with paper and pencil, of course.

Draw a face on the board. Clumsy artists are welcome. Include as many facial features as you like; the more you include, the more guesses your students have.

I like to write the entire alphabet on the board. This way, the students have an easy letter bank to choose
from. I found that some students took forever to search their brains for a letter. This speeds up the process.

Technically, when the face is gone before the word has been solved, the game is over. But I never beat my students at this game; I will draw it out while they guess more letters. It's fun to watch them figure it out, and it gives them more practice.

When I erase part of the face, I ask my younger students to pretend like they are erasing theirs as well. Much giggling ensues.

I think this game has a lot going for it. It is a great way to reinforce vocabulary. I use it in conjunction with my "Word Wall," which has the 100 most frequently-used words Velcroed to it. My students have spent hours studying this board as a result. You could do this for new vocabulary from a textbook or a story just as easily.

Furthermore, I think that this game teaches some essential word-solving skills. The students really want to know what that word is, and as they try to figure it out they are compelled to imagine what sounds and letter would fit with the ones already guessed. It's kind of like sounding out words in reverse.

As the year has gone on, students have become increasingly capable of running this game by themselves. They take turns picking a word, drawing a face, and eliciting guesses from their classmates. I can pull students out for one-on-one time or just sit back and enjoy the show.

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